Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

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Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison is a Bildungsroman about an African
American, “Milkman” Dead, and his epiphany towards his appreciation towards
life. Through his experiences with love, family, and friendships Milkman grew up
to be a self centered man that only started appreciating his life in his thirties. By
finding information about his ancestors, Milkman felt ashamed of his prior
conduct seeing that his ancestors were respected and honored enough to have a
song and a town named after them. The story concludes with death finally
catching up with Milkman as well as his sense of identity becoming completely
clear to him.
Main themes:

Coming-of-Age
Milkman being comfortable being the only son of the wealthiest African American
in town, does not fully “come-of-age” until after his thirty-second birthday.
Following his quest for gold and instead having a journey back in time, Milkman
begins to define himself as the descendant of a man who could fly, but also to
recognize the costs of his great-grandfather's transcendence. In so doing, he
learns his duty to his family and community.

Class/Race Conflict:
Throughout the book, Milkman Dead is faced with not fitting in with other Blacks
due to his higher class status. But even so, he is still considered lower than a
white man and the mistreatment of other blacks is also ever more present within
the book. Example: When Reba was the 100,000 customer in a silent contest,
she was not acknowledged as a winner due to the fact that she was black.

Escape:
Right from the start, the characters in the book are trying to escape. The man
jumping off the hospital to his death wishes to escape the horrors he has inflicted
upon others. Milkman wishes to escape his feeling of being ostracized by his
community. Guitar wants to escape his class status through the satisfaction of
“keeping the numbers equal”, or killing innocent whites. Milkman does finally
escape through “flight”.

Flying:
The first character introduced refers to his suicide as “flying”. Milkman is
disgruntled by his findings at age four that he can not fly. Solomon is said to
have flown away to Africa. Pilate, flies without leaving the ground. Guitar states
that the peacock has “too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity.
Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that
weighs you down.” (179) This explanation of why the peacock cant fly better is
an explanation of why Milkman cant fly, he has too much “shit” weighing him
down.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

                                 QUESTIONS

1. What is Morrison trying to get across by including a page explanation of “Not
    Doctor Street” and “No Mercy Hospital” on the first two pages of the book?
2. What can you infer from the exchange between Ruth, the doctor’s daughter
    and the shabby singing woman?
3. What is the relationship between Ruth and her husband?
4. What is Ruth’s secret and only pleasure she looks forward to?
5. How is this disturbing and justified?
6. How does this affect the boy within the community? And how does the father
    feel about the name?
7. What is the relationship between Macon Dead and the people he rents
    houses to?
8. What is the relationship between Macon and Milkman?
9. What was Pilate born without?
10. How is it ironic that Milkman and Guitar are best friends?
11. How does Pilate’s family survive?
12. How did Guitar get his name?
13. Why can’t Guitar eat sweets?
14. What does Ruth say to Macon that precipitates Macon smacking her in the
    jaw?
15. How does Milkman react to his father’s action? How do Milkman’s sisters
    react to Milkman’s action?
16. What word did Dr. Foster use to refer to the “Negroes” in the town? What was
    he most interested in when he delivered Milkman’s sisters?
17. How were Lena and Corinthians’ names chosen? Who else’s name was
    chosen by this method?
18. Why does Macon tell Milkman the story about his mother?
19. What happened in Mississippi that gets all the men in the barber shop all
    stirred up?
20. What is Guitar to Milkman, in literary terms?
21. How does Milkman describe Pilate when she is mad?
22. What is Milkman’s growing suspicion of the murders in town? Cite an
    example.
23. “Tell you somebody else might know what’s going on. Corinthians. Ask
    Corinthians.” How does this foreshadow the upcoming events?
24. Who is attempting to murder Milkman? And for what reason? Why does the
    intended crime never go through?
25. Where does Milkman follow Ruth to? What does she tell him?
26. What does Milkman find out about his father?
27. Who aided Ruth when Macon tried so desperately to get rid of him?
28. What does Guitar say about white people as a race? Does he believe all
    white people have the potential to kill? Cite an Example
29. What historic names does Guitar cite as potential killers? What does he say
    the reason behind a white mans need to kill a black man is?
30. Why did Robert Smith commit suicide and why did Henry Porter try to?
31. Why does the murdering group refer to themselves as the 7 Days?
32. Why doesn’t Macon know that Pilate has a green sack hanging from her
    ceiling?
33. Where do Pilate and Macon go after their father is killed?
34. Why did the “slavemaster’s” house where Circe hid the children repulse Pilate
    and Macon?
35. What does Macon suspect is in the green sack in Pilate’s house? What does
    he instruct Milkman to do?
36. What is Guitar’s mission for the Seven Days?
37. Why does Guitar end up agreeing to breaking into Pilate’s house and stealing
    the gold Macon believes is the Green Sack? What does Milkman think is the
    reason of why Guitar accepts being his “partner in crime”?
38. Compare and contrast Macon Jr.'s and Milkman's quests for gold. How does
    searching for gold alter their personalities?
39. What is Guitar’s explanation for why the white peacock cant fly “better than a
    chicken?” How does this foreshadow future events and discoveries?
40. What does Ruth believe Corinthians does for a job? What is really her job?
    Why has she chosen this career path?
41. What is so ironic about the man Corinthians falls in love with? How does he
    tie into the story as a whole?
42. What do we find out happened after Milkman and Guitar stole the sack? Who
    ended up helping them out? What was in the sack?
43. Where does Macon believe the gold is after the first try to find it was a bust?
44. Why does Milkman tell Guitar he intends to go to Danville on his own?
45. When Guitar says “just recently one of us was put out on the street,” who is
    he referring to? Who is the “us” in the phrase? Who is responsible?
46. What does Circe reveal happened to the body of Macon and Pilate’s father?
47. What does Macon do at the station that he naturally would not do, especially
    after being in such a bad condition?
48. Where does Milkman head to next? What is the message that is left there for
    him?
49. What sound does he hear as the hunt begins?
50. What happens in the woods when Milkman goes hunting?
51. What does Milkman find out about his grandmother? How does this
    discovery help Milkman?
52. What does Guitar accuse Milkman of doing? What is the reason for Guitar’s
    sudden violent nature towards once his best friend?
53. What is Milkman’s epiphany about his parents and about Hagar? What does
    he realize the children’s song is about?
54. What happens to Hagar while Milkman is gone?
55. Explain what the Solomon children song stands for…
56. Why does Pilate give Hagar’s hair to Milkman?
Analyze the scene with Milkman and Pilate burying the bones of her fath
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

                                    ANSWERS

1. Morrison was trying to convey that the time period is when African Americans
    were still being oppressed. The African Americans of the city were so proud
    of “one of their own” being a Doctor that they honored him by referring to the
    street the only African American Doctor lived on as Doctor Street. However,
    the officials would not let it be called that for then it would mean that an
    African American man was significant in any way. The oppression of African
    Americans is also conveyed through Mercy Hospital, which is called “No
    Mercy Hospital” due to the fact that it is an unfair facility that does not give
    mercy to African Americans. And when for the first time an African American
    woman was admitted, a man had jumped off the roof and the nurses were in
    too big of a shock to deny the woman midway through labor.
2. “The women were looking deep into each other’s eyes…” (p 9) Through this
    passage one can infer that in one way or another the two women know each
    other and have a secret that they both share.
3. Clearly he is an ungrateful man for how hard Ruth tries to make the
    household pretty. He is also presented as a man that puts down his wife for
    when he sits to eat and is asked about the centerpiece she put together, he
    stated “Your chicken is red at the bone. And there is probably a potato dish
    that is supposed to have lumps in it. Mashed ain’t the dish.” (p 12)
4. Ruth’s secret and only pleasure is breastfeeding her youngest son.
5. This act would be ok if only her son was not about four years old and way too
    old to be breast-fed. However one can infer that since her husband pays her
    no mind physically or emotionally, this is the only way she feels that she has a
    purpose and this way she feels needed and loved and therefore it is hard to
    give up no matter how old the boy.
6. Since Freddie caught her doing that, he calls the boy “Milkman” and the name
    sticks. Although some residents don’t know the story behind the name, the
    ones that do are too scared to explain to Macon Dead where the name
    originated. However, he notices how his wife gets nervous when their son is
    referred to by that name and has his own idea that the name must have
    originated from some perverse act by his wife whom he already hates.
7. Since he is a greedy man all he cares about is money and even though the
    people might be in a tough situation, he doesn’t care and therefore has a bad
    relationship with them for they all dislike him.
8. Macon doesn’t say anything to Milkman other than orders. It seems that the
    father needs to be the number one in the house at all times and put his kids
    and wife down so he stays that way.
9. A navel.
10. It is ironic because it was Milkman’s father that kicked Guitar and Mrs. Bains
    out of their house when they were going through tough times.
11. They make bootleg wine that they don’t drink and only sell. Pilate’s daughter
    Reba is also gifted in that she wins any contest she enters yet she doesn’t
    care much for what she wins.
12. When he lived in Florida he saw a contest where you guess the right number
    of jelly beans and win a guitar. Although he never played one e really wanted
    it and ever since then his mother called him Guitar. Even as he got older he
    never played a guitar.
13. Because the day his father was killed, his mother gave him some candy and
    ever since then he associated candy with his fathers death and throws up.
14. She tells the story of how she didn’t realize that she had to receive the host at
    a Catholic wedding, which Macon, her husband, puts her down for calling her
    stupid and telling her she “made a fool of herself”. This is followed by him
    saying that the woman whose wedding Ruth attended didn’t know her name
    because she referred to Ruth as Dr. Foster’s daughter. Ruth then retaliates
    that she is her daddy’s daughter which is followed by Macon punching her
    across the face and dislodging her jaw.
15. Realizing that his mother is not just an object but rather a frail defenseless
    woman, he juts out of his seat and slams his father against a radiator. When
    he looks at his sisters reactions, they only sit there with anger on their faces.
16. Dr. Foster, according to Macon, referred to “Negroes” as “cannibals”. The
    only thing he was interested in when delivering Milkman’s sisters was the
    color of their skin.
17. Macon blindly picked a name from the Bible to choose their names. Earlier in
    the book one learns that that was how their father chose Pilate’s name as
    well.
18. He tells Milkman the story so that next time Milkman feels the urge to swing at
    his father for the mistreatment of his wife, he will know where this sudden
    burst of anger comes from and perhaps will see his view of the woman that
    bore him.
19. This is a true event. Emmet Till, a 14 year old Northern born African
    American went to visit his great uncle. Being unknowledgeable of how things
    were different down south, he whistled at a white woman. Four days
    following, he was abducted by three men and brutally killed. In the Song of
    Solomon, Morrison cites this historic event which is known to have sparked
    the civil rights movement. The men in the barber shop are mostly used to the
    fact that nothing will be done to the murderers. However, Guitar and a few
    others see and vocalize about how wrong it is if nothing is done about the
    murder.
20. Guitar is Milkman’s Confidante.
21. Her mouth stops moving and “her earring flashed fire” (p 93)
22. He suspects that the men that tell the story and laugh about a maniac white
    women, Winnie Ruth, killing the victims, know a little too much when they
    describe the victim. “For some time Milkman had been picking up hints that
    one or more of these murders had in fact been either witnessed or committed
    by a Negro. Some slip, someone knowing some detail about the victim. Like
    whether or not Winnie Ruth couldn’t stand saddle shoes. Did the boy have on
    saddle shoes? Did the newspaper say so? Or was that just one of the fanciful
    details a good jokester would think of?” (p 101)
23. Later on in the book, the reader discovers that Corinthians is involved with
    one of the members of the Seven Days, Porter, and by Freddie saying that to
    Milkman, the alert reader can discern that Freddie saying that to Milkman
    somehow connects the murders and Corinthians.
24. Hagar, Milkman’s ex-lover, is attempting to kill Milkman because he broke her
    heart and the only way she can be close to him is by trying to kill him. She
    never succeeds in these feeble attempts because she is madly in love with
    him even though he will never love her as he once did. So therefore she
    doesn’t really want to kill him she just wants him and her mind process is that
    if she cant have him, no one else can.
25. Milkman follows his mother to the cemetery where her father lies. She
    informs Milkman that her father was the only one that cared for her and that
    Macon killed him by taking away his medication and that she had done
    nothing wrong than to love her own father.
26. Milkman learns that his father would not touch his wife and the only reason he
    did was because Pilate gave Ruth some mix that made him want her. Once
    Ruth was pregnant and Macon came out of his trance, he realized that the
    reason that he had lain with Ruth was due to some “potion” his sister provided
    his wife with. After that he made Ruth stick things up her vagina in the
    attempt to kill the un-born Milkman.
27. Pilate gave Ruth special things to eat and talked sense to her brother and
    made Ruth strong enough to go against her husband.
28. “Each and every one of them could do it. So you just get any of them. There
    are no innocent white people, because everyone of them is a potential nigger-
    killer, if not an actual one.” (156)
29. Kennedy, Schweitzer, Eleanor Roosevelt: Guitar calls the need to kill a
    “..disease they have is in their blood, in the structure of their chromosomes.”
    (157)
30. Because neither could handle taking an innocent life and instead of
    “squealing” about the Seven Days operation they rather took or attempted to
    take their own lives.
31. They refer to themselves as that because each member has a day out of the
    7-day week assigned to them. If a black man is killed in Ohio on a Friday
    then the Friday man has to kill a white man on that day in almost the same
    way as the Ohio black man was murdered.
32. Macon has never been inside his sisters house, he has only walked outside
    of it, too disgusted to go inside himself.
33. They go to Circe, a midwife that delivered both of them and who cleaned the
    house of a very rich white family. She takes in the kids and puts them in
    rooms the owners don’t go into.
34. It repulsed Pilate and Macon to stay in that house because the house
    belonged to the men that shot their father and whose greed for land and
    power cost them the loss of the one they loved.
35. Macon believes that the gold of the man he had killed when he was a boy is
    in that sack. He believes this because after he killed the man, Pilate would
    not let Macon take the gold and when he returned, all the gold was gone.
    Macon therefore sends his son to go and fetch the sack so they can split the
    gold. Even though neither of them needs the money.
36. “Four little colored girls had been blown out of a church, and his mission was
    to approximate as best he could a similar death of four little white girls some
    Sunday, since he was the Sunday man.” (173)
37. He needs the money so that he can buy the explosives that he will use on his
    mission to kill the four little white girls. Guitar however, puts on a show for
    Milkman so that he thinks that Guitar is only joining in on the burglary so that
    he can have money. By this point, Guitar doesn’t care about money he only
    cares about his missions and keeping things “equal” while taking innocent
    lives.
38. Although both men seek money, they approach their quests differently. For
    Macon Jr., gold becomes an end in itself. However, Milkman's quest for
    financial riches becomes a journey to uncover his family history. Having seen
    his father die while defending his land, Macon Jr. develops an unhealthy
    attachment to material things. For example, when Macon Jr. sees gold
    nuggets in Hunter's Cave after murdering an old white man, his humanity
    begins to disappear. He neither regrets killing the white man nor pays
    attention to his father's ghosts, who is trying to speak to him. Although he
    never recovers the gold he sees in Hunter's Cave, Macon Jr. spends his life
    trying to find the wealth he believes he has lost. He severs the relationship
    with his sister, Pilate, and damages the relationship with his immediate family,
    revealing that he does not own his gold. Instead, his gold owns him.
    Initially Milkman is just as captivated by gold as his father, Macon Jr.
    However, Milkman does not seek gold for its own sake. For Milkman, gold is a
    tool, an instrument that can win him independence from his parents. Because
    Milkman never becomes as attached to the image of gold as Macon Jr., he is
    able to let go of his search for gold when his efforts fail. The quest for gold
    enriches Milkman because it puts him on the path of personal discovery.
39. Guitar says that the peacock has “too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it
    down. Like vanity. Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to
    give up the shit that weighs you down” (179) This foreshadows that if a man
    wants to fly, he can not let anyone or anything weigh him down. He has to be
    at peace with himself. A white peacock is a symbol of resurrection and purity.
    So a man that is seeking to fly, as Robert Smith attempted to in the beginning
    of the book, must be willing to become pure and come to peace with not only
    himself but the world around him.
40. Ruth believes that Corinthians is an amanuensis, or someone hired for their
    skill in the transcription of speech. She believes that Corinthians is the
    amanuensis of the poet, Michael-Mary Graham. Her real job is being the
    maid for this poet. She was about forty years old and still had no husband
    that fit the description her father put forth. She was going mad and needed to
    do something for herself and not be a burden on her parents from whom she
    still received a monthly allowance.
41. He is the man that earlier in the book was threatening to take his life and
    peed over the heads of woman. He is the same man that is part of the Seven
    Days, and he is the same man that Corinthians father is the landlord of.
42. Milkman and Guitar were stopped by the police and taken to jail. The
    contents of the sack were the bones of a man. Since Milkman and Guitar had
    no other choice, they said where they got the bones from and Pilate was
    called in. The reader knew by then that Pilate had witnessed the two men
    taking the green sack and therefore it came at no surprise that she was ready
    with an alibi. She helped the men out of jail while Macon bribed the officer so
    that he would not press charges.
43. Macon believes the gold is still in the cave.
44. He tells him that he just needs to get away from his family, after more inquires
    upon his decision, Milkman argues that it would look more suspicious with two
    men instead of one roaming around the woods. However he does promise
    that he will bring the gold back and split it with Guitar as he had promised.
45. He is referring to Henry Porter, Corinthians lover. The “us” is the Seven Days
    and Milkman is responsible for all that happening.
46. She reveals that a month after his burial, the murdered Macon Dead I's body
    floated out of its grave during the first rain and was deposited by hunters in
    the same cave where Macon Jr. and Pilate stayed.
47. He assists an old white man lifting a crate.
48. He next heads to Virginia town by the name of Shalimar. The gas station
    man with the last name of Solomon soon informs him that a man was looking
    for him and left the message “Your day is here.” Milkman connects this
    message with his friend Guitar and momentarily gets scared. However he
    talks himself into believing the message was just left so that he would
    recognize who it was from.
49. Milkman believes he hears the sound of a woman crying. Calvin, his hunting
    partner explains that the legend is of a woman, Ryna whose husband
    Solomon flew away and left her behind and that when the wind is just right,
    you can hear her crying. And so I is called Ryna’s Gulch.
50. Since he is more out of shape than most of the men, he has to take a few
    breaks. From behind him Guitar appears and starts choking him with a wire,
    repeating again the Seven Days' trademark phrase, “your day has come.”
    Milkman sees colored lights and hears music. His life flashes before him, but
    it consists of only one image—that of Hagar bending over him “in perfect love,
    in the most intimate sexual gesture imaginable.” Milkman relaxes,
    surrendering to Guitar's murderous hands and breathes what he thinks is his
    last breath. Suddenly feeling invigorated, he manages to fire his Winchester
    rifle and scare Guitar off just as the men from the hunting party return, with a
    bobcat as their prize. The hunters, unaware of the recent attempt on
    Milkman's life, make fun of him for accidentally firing the rifle. Unaffected by
    their comments, Milkman walks on the earth “like he belong[s] on it,” for the
    first time not limping.
51. He finds out that she was an Indian by the name of Sing, the daughter of a
    woman named Heddy. She is related to one of the residents of Shalimar,
    Susan Byrd.
52. Guitar accuses Milkman of stealing the gold from the cave and shipping it to
    Virginia. Although Milkman denies doing so, Guitar is convinced of Milkman's
    treachery, announcing that he saw Milkman helping an old man lift a heavy
    crate onto a weighing platform back in Danville. Having never seen Milkman
    perform a selfless act, Guitar finds Milkman's assisting of the old man
    suspicious. Believing that Milkman has stolen the gold, thereby preventing
    Guitar from carrying out his mission for the Seven Days, Guitar promises to
    do everything possible to kill him. When Milkman asks why Guitar left him a
    warning about his impending demise at Solomon's store, Guitar replies that it
    was the least he could do for a friend.
53. The events of the few previous days make Milkman realize that he sorely
    misses Pilate. He also sees his parents' flaws and positive qualities in a more
    objective light, and understands that their life experience scarred them.
    Finally, Milkman regrets his treatment of Hagar and becomes aware that he
    thrived off her desire for him because it validated his manhood. Milkman
    realizes that the song is about his grandfather, Macon Dead I, formerly known
    as Jake, and his great-grandfather, Solomon.
54. Hagar is lovesick and feels that no matter what she never will be good
    enough for the man she loves. When Pilate brings her a mirror, Hagar
    realizes that the reason that Milkman doesn’t want her is because she is such
    a mess. Reba, wanting to please her daughter in any way, sells her ring and
    gives all the money to Hagar. Hagar then proceeds to buy clothes and
    perfumes that she believes will make her look nice. She is caught in a
    downpour and ends up looking like a wild mess. After realizing the state of
    her appearance she becomes ill and dies.
55. Sing, it turns out, left on a wagon to go North with Jake, who belonged to the
    legendary tribe of flying African children, the descendants of Solomon.
    Solomon and his wife, Ryna, had been slaves on a cotton plantation and had
    had twenty-one children, all boys, the last one named Jake. When Solomon
    flew away from Virginia, he tried to take Jake, who was a baby at the time,
    with him. Unfortunately, Solomon brushed by some tree branches and
    dropped Jake, who fell from the sky into the yard of an Indian woman named
    Heddy. Heddy had a baby daughter named Singing Bird (later called Sing)
    and raised Jake as her own son after Ryna became insane following
    Solomon's flight. Eventually, Heddy had another son, Crow Bird (later called
    Crowell Byrd), who was to become Susan Byrd's father. Meanwhile, Jake and
    Sing secretly ran off together.
56. As previously stated, Pilate believes that if you take a life you own it. So by
    giving the hair to Milkman, it represents him owning Hagar’s life and having to
    carry the burden till the end of his days.
57. Even in death, flight remains the symbol of life. The birds circling over Pilate's
    body after she is killed by Guitar's bullet suggest that physical death is not the
    end of her existence. The swooping down of one bird to take Pilate's snuffbox
up to the sky indicates that her name will live on. And because she has so
long clutched her name as a crucial part of her identity, it is clear that she too
will live on. But even as Pilate's body lies still on the ground, Milkman himself
takes flight. Having learned the story of his heritage he is now fully alive. We
do not know whose death will result from Milkman's leap at Guitar, but
Morrison suggests that whether Milkman kills or is killed doesn't really matter,
since Milkman, now endowed with a rich sense of his identity, will live on after
death just as Pilate will and just as Solomon has in the song that bears his
name.